OUR lawmakers are in the spotlight these days. Or rather, how they perform their roles is under increasing scrutiny. Recent developments are timely reminders that those in Parliament and the state assemblies are there to represent the people in matters of state, including the creation and amendment of laws.
We therefore need our MPs and state assemblymen to be alert, vocal and ever mindful of the interests and sentiments of the rakyat.
Perhaps more so than those serving in the executive branch of government and Opposition leaders, the backbenchers among the elected representatives are expected to be more attuned to public opinion.
They ought to be the first to raise red flags and register their concerns when proposed changes to the law may be detrimental to a significant section of the country or are likely to cause confusion or misperception. This is crucial if we are to ensure that our legislative bodies pass fair, effective and sturdy laws.
The importance of this was underscored by the flap over the Bill that led to the introduction of the Johor Housing and Real Property Board Enactment.
Just before the Bill’s tabling in the Johor state assembly on June 9, it had been amended because many had interpreted some of the original provisions as giving the Johor Sultan a big say in how the board is run. The enactment now makes it clear that the Ruler will act on the advice of the Mentri Besar.
A similar controversy erupted when it was alleged that a Parliamentary Bill to amend the Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia Act will potentially transform the tax agency into a “quasi-investment firm” that invests taxes collected on behalf of the Government.
The Finance Ministry denied this yesterday, adding that all direct taxes collected by the board will be channelled to the Federal Consolidated Fund. The ministry said the board was allowed to make investments using its own funds because it was responsible for its operational and development costs.
At the same time, the second and third reading of the Bill has been postponed to the next Dewan Rakyat meeting in October.
Equally noteworthy is the decision by the National Unity Consultative Council to seek public feedback on a plan to replace the Sedition Act with three new pieces of legislation. That has sparked a lively ongoing discussion.
Taken together, these three developments tell us that sometimes the Bills that are presented to the legislators for their votes are not necessarily ready to be passed into law.
In such cases, they may need to be refined or put aside until the circumstances are right. It is up to every wakil rakyat to make sure that he and his constituents are well-briefed on the intent of a Bill and that their views are put across to those pushing the Bill.
The formulation and passage of any Bill must never be rushed. There is no justification for passing a flawed law with the promise that it will be fixed later. It is encouraging though that the Government is listening and is prepared to engage in more active dialogues with the players.
The legislature may be the one that finally puts its stamp of approval for a Bill to become law, but it is best to hear everyone out first.
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